Leah Goren is an illustrator and surface pattern designer living in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated from Parsons School of Design in 2012 with a BFA in Illustration. She has worked for a wonderful list of clients including Anthropologie, Ban.do, Chronicle Books, The Land of Nod, Loeffler Randall, Penguin Random House, Vanity Fair, & Vogue.
Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator.
I studied illustration at Parsons School of Design, and graduated with a BFA in 2012. I opened an Etsy shop while I was in school, and it became successful, enabling me to support myself and get out my work to a huge audience at the same time. This wasn't that long ago but it feels like a different era of the internet. At the time, Etsy was new, and fashion and lifestyle blogs were huge. There was a big demand for handmade or illustrated goods, and in 2010 not everyone had a shop like they do now, so my work stood out more. Over time, I transitioned from having an Etsy to an independent shop platform, and from focusing on my shop to steady client work. I have so much work now that my shop is closed, but I hope to reopen sometime soon!
In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?
Really just from my shop and the internet. I've never done anything to solicit work other than put my work online—I'm too scared to just email art directors! I've always had a blog, and I switched from Blogspot to Tumblr when it felt necessary. I also started using Instagram in 2011, shortly after it started, and it's been a really great publicity tool.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
I keep a very consistent schedule and almost always do the same things at the same times every week. I know that I will be at the studio from 9 or 10 to 6 or 7, my allergy shot is Tuesdays at noon, Pilates is Friday at 10:30, etc. This is probably just my OCD and not an actual tip, but it works. I write everything down in a calendar (well, it's Google calendar now) and make a lot of lists. I also keep pretty good track of what actually is a priority. I just don't procrastinate on things when I know they have to be done. What I do put off is emails that don't really need to be sent, or tasks like filling out this interview!
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
There hasn't been one defining struggle, but in general I don't always know how to do everything I need to do, and it's up to me to figure it out. Knowing what to charge and handling contracts are a couple issues that have gotten much easier over the years. My creative process has gotten a lot easier too, and I have a better idea of how long projects will take and what I'm capable of. But I still have problems with tons of stuff! Health insurance confuses me so much, and I still barely know how to use Adobe Illustrator. And just today I was setting up a new computer and having mini-meltdowns about almost deleting important files from Dropbox and the Wacom pen sensitivity not working in Photoshop. So, it's always something, but I'll always be learning.
What is your favorite thing about freelancing?
Even though my schedule doesn't vary too often, I love having control over it. I can travel any time I want to, I can be sick any time I want to, and I can go to the beach every day in the summer (if I don't have any work!).
"I can travel any time I want to, I can be sick any time I want to, and I can go to the beach every day in the summer (if I don't have any work!)."
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
I use a program called Billings for invoicing. I don't know if it's the best (it probably isn't) but it works for me. I also hire someone to do my taxes. That's about it though. I know some illustrators have agents so they don't have to deal with the business side of their work, but I find that it really doesn't take much of my time.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Having a studio separate from my apartment really helps. When I used to work at home there was very little divide between life and work—it's hard enough as it is because my job is so tied to my identity. Also not working too much is important. I almost never work on weekends and try to go home at a reasonable hour every night. I always like the idea of working endlessly, but in reality I need time to reset at the end of the day.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
independence, work ethic, talent or skill